Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Portland Roses

Portland Roses

This week I wanted to talk about a less well-known class of roses called "Portland". (It's one of those cute factoids that Portland, Oregon, is famous for it's rose gardens and the fantastic Portland Rose Festival .) Anyway, this is about the historic class of Old Garden Roses, dubbed "Portland".

The Portland class of roses was one of the first to combine the European roses with newly imported, repeat-blooming China roses that were brought to England in the late 18th/early 19th century by English explorers of China.  The first member of the Portland class was recognized as such around 1800 in the gardens of the Duchess of Portland. 

Details about the origins of this first Portland are sketchy, but it does appear that the Duchess may have originally obtained the rose, Rosa paestana, i.e. ‘Scarlet Four Seasons’ Rose’ from Italy.  This rose was eventually sent from England to André Dupont, the Empress Josèphine’s gardener in France, where he named the rose ‘Duchess of Portland”.  The French then raised numerous varieties, crossing them with other classes such as Chinas.

Theories abound about precisely which roses were involved in the creation of this class, although most sources cite some combination of Gallica, Damask, Centifolia and China.  David Austin believes he recognizes Damask in the ancestry as well as China, and speculates that ‘Slater’s Crimson China’ may have been thrown into bed with a French Gallica rose at one point or another.

Although Portlands were only really popular for a brief period in the early years of the 19th century before Bourbon and Hybrid Perpetuals overshadowed them, they are still excellent garden additions.   

The Portland class is a small group of roses, only a few dozen were hybridized during the 19th century and none in the 20th or 21st.  They are very winter hardy, however, and are very strong rebloomers.

Most Portlands show some of the same characteristics as the Damasks, except they are generally shorter.  And of course, unlike Damasks, Portlands rebloom.

Characteristics include:
v  Moderate size, most are around 4’ tall, making them good garden additions where there is not a lot of room.
v  The flowers have very short stems with leaves growing around the flower.  Graham Thomas describes this as a rosette or shoulder of leaves.
v  Flowers repeat fairly reliably.
v  Portlands have a rich, strong Damask rose fragrance.
v  Disease resistance is quite good.

Some good varieties include:

v  ‘Comte de Chambord’, introduced 1860 by Moreau-Robert (France).  An extremely popular rose, even today.  The flowers are very full, quartered, in a clear pink with an extremely powerful Damask rose fragrance.  This is a strong grower and forms an upright shrub around 4’ tall with lots of foliage.  Repeat flowering.

v  Indigo’, circa 1830.  Forms a compact bush around 4’ tall with dark green foliage.  The flowers are large, with a lovely dark purple hue.

v  ‘Rose de Rescht’ was brought to England by Miss Nancy Lindsay from Iran or France.  This rose forms a bushy shrub that stays fairly small, approximately 3’ tall.  Very double flowers have a purplish-crimson color and are fragrant.  There is ample, rough-textured foliage, and it reliably produces at least two crops of flowers.

v  ‘Marbrée’ was raised by Robert et Moreau in 1858, in France.  The shrubs tend to grow to about 4’ tall with plentiful dark green foliage.  The flowers are a deep purple-pink, mottled with pale pink.  They open flat and have only a slight fragrance.  These roses are generally free of disease.

v  ‘The Portland Rose’ (the ‘Scarlet Four Seasons’ Rose’ according to David Austin).  This rose is healthy and forms a spreading bush about 3’ tall.  Blooms very well in both spring and fall.  The flowers are semi-double in light crimson, and open wide to display yellow stamens.  It is very fragrant.

Hope you enjoy the last few months and are preparing for the fall rose season. It can be a pretty spectacular way to end the summer. But if you need a cooling break from the summer heat, there's always a new book to be had...

A Rose Before Dying
Only Sir Edward had the motive and the opportunity.
When the first victim dies, Sir Edward is the likeliest culprit. The murdered woman was Sir Edward’s ex-mistress who threw him over for a younger man, and she dies after receiving a mysterious rose. Confused and stricken by her death, Sir Edward is horrified when a second rose is delivered, along with a note insinuating that he had something to do with his mistress’ death. In desperation, he begs his nephew, Charles Vance, to help him prove his innocence.

Charles Vance, the new Earl of Castlemoor, is convinced Sir Edward is innocent and agrees to work with the renowned head of the Second Sons Inquiry Agency to flush out the murderer. But the investigation soon reveals more reasons why Sir Edward may be responsible and even the inquiry agent warns Charles not to let family loyalty stand in the way of the truth. There may be some truth behind the rumors. "The roses may simply be Sir Edward’s attempt to cast suspicion elsewhere." "Misdirection." Or so the whispers say.

Desperate to stop the murders, Charles enlists the aide of notable rosarian, Ariadne Wellfleet, to identify the roses in hopes of saving the next victim. Unfortunately, his actions sweep the Wellfleet household into the killer’s net and puts friends and family alike at risk. He has no choice but to finish the investigation, regardless of the costs.

A Rose Before Dying is a witty Regency whodunit combined with a heart-warming romance in the tradition of Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders and Victoria Holt’s The Mistress of Mellyn. This addition to the Second Sons mystery series includes an unwilling detective whose family loyalties are tested as he seeks to catch an elusive killer. 

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